I remember when pulled pork first started coming out on menus, I found it quite funny. Because “pulled’ just means shredded, yet it seems to be a verb restricted only to pork. You don’t have pulled chicken, pulled lamb, or pulled beef do you? No, you have shredded chicken, slow-cooked lamb, and slow-cooked beef. It’s interesting how that verb is used exclusively for pork.
Despite my slightly derisive amusement at the use of the verb, I love the stuff. Ever since I bought a casserole dish and learned to slow-cook meats on the stovetop or in the oven, I’ve had a love affair with the whole process. The short, simple process of sealing the meat, then adding herbs and wine to the dish before placing the heavy lid on and allowing the low, slow heat to work its magic on the protein; filling the kitchen and the house with heady, rich aromas. Slow-cooking doesn’t have to be restricted to the cooler months as it’s not all luxurious stews and sauces. This pulled pork recipe can be broken down into many different summertime recipes, whether they be stuffed burgers, sliders or soft tacos for entertaining, mixed through with some brown rice and salad for lunchboxes, or rolled into fresh Vietnamese rice paper rolls. I did the latter two.
If you’re afraid of trying to roast a pork shoulder as you’re only a single person (like me), leftovers can be divided into ziplock bags and frozen for a quick go-to solution. But I had the 2014 Sydney Food Blogger’s Christmas Picnic coming up. This was something I’ve been wanting to try for a while, and such an occasion was the perfect opportunity to give it a shot.
I cooked the pork for six hours, so I recommend you do it the day before serving for lunch or the morning before serving it for dinner.
You will need:
- 1.7kg pork shoulder, bone out;
- 2 tablespoons olive oil;
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika;
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds;
- 1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes;
- 2 teaspoons cumin;
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns;
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar;
- 2 garlic cloves;
- 2 bay leaves;
- 250ml apple cider or apple juice;
- Freshly ground sea salt flakes;
- Disposable gloves (optional).
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celcius. Open up the pork. I just got a 1.7kg pork shoulder from my local Woolworths. The beauty of slow-cooked recipes is that the cuts are so cheap. Remove the top layer of skin and most of the fat carefully with a carving knife. You can discard it, or save it for crackling. I’ll add notes below as to how you can make crackling. You won’t be able to cook it at the same time as the meat as it requires a much higher temperature.
Heat a deep casserole dish on a high heat and add two tablespoons of the olive oil. Salt the pork generously on both sides and sear the pork shoulder on all sides until brown. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind up the paprika, fennel seeds, peppercorns, brown sugar, cumin, chilli flakes and garlic until it’s mostly powder.
The smell of smoked paprika is so absolutely amazing! Rub this dry rub mixture all over the seared pork. Use disposable gloves if the pork is still hot. It’s a good idea to have gloves anyway as the paprika is quite a strong colour. Place the pork back in the pan and add the cider, two cups of water and the bay leaves.
Put the lid on the place in the preheated oven. Resist the temptation to keep opening the door and taking it out to check on it, but once every two hours so go over and open it up (careful of the steam), and turn the pork so that all sides have the opportunity to sit in the gorgeous cider mix. At the end of six hours, the pork – with the slightest prod of a fork – should do this:
I think the neighbours may have heard me moaning in ecstasy in the kitchen. ONLY remove your pork from the oven if it’s at this stage. If it takes effort to pull it apart, it is not done yet. If it is done, take the casserole dish out, then remove the pork into a large bowl and shred it with two forks, discarding any gristle.
Tip the pork back into the residual sauce in the casserole dish to infuse more of that smoky flavour.
Now you can choose your own adventure. As in, you can choose what you would like to do with the pork. My primary option was to roll it into Vietnamese rice paper rolls. I rolled them up with freshly picked mint, julienned carrot, rice vermicelli, and because I wanted something a little different to give a bit of crunch, I also finely julienned Granny Smith apples and rolled it in as well. Everyone loved it.
Tips for making the Vietnamese rice paper rolls:
- If transporting them, soak clean tea towels in cold water and wring dry before lining the box.
- Cook rice vermicelli in a bowl of boiling hot water before draining and rinsing with cold water.
- Soak the rice paper rounds briefly in a tray of cold water until soft enough to work with, but not sodden (about eight seconds or so).
- When assembling the rolls, lay out the soaked rice paper on a clean, damp tea towel.
- I didn’t want to make a very strong dipping sauce that would overpower the smoky pork. You can make a simple honey soy dipping sauce to accompany the rolls by mixing together two tablespoons of soy sauce, two teaspoons of honey, one teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and one teaspoon of sesame oil.
The leftover pork went into lunchboxes with some brown rice and fresh tomato salsa (fresh truss tomatoes chopped into dice with a little Spanish onion, flat leaf parsley – or use coriander if you prefer, salt and lots of pepper), and a drizzle of hot sauce.
Now, I did promise you notes on how to prepare crackling. Mine came out a little uneven, best around the edges, but it was my first attempt and I knew what I could have done better.
- Preheat the oven to high, 220 degrees Celcius.
- Turn the skin over and remove as much of the fat as possible from underneath with a sharp knife. Turn it skin-side up again and make diagonal score lines across the surface, not penetrating all the way through, about 2 centimetres apart. Repeat in the opposite direction.
- Drizzle over generously with olive oil and grind over a good amount of salt. Just more than you’re comfortable with. Crackling is not a healthy affair in the first place anyway. Using your fingers, rub the salt and oil all over the skin, getting it into the crevices you’ve cut.
- Place it on a foil-lined tray, or if you have one, a metal oven-proof rack with a tray underneath to catch the fat.
- Place into the oven and listen to it crackle and pop. It’s done when the skin has blistered and browned. Remove, allow to cool slightly before cutting into pieces with kitchen scissors.
So many ways with a simple piece of in-expensive meat! I can’t wait until the next opportunity comes up for me to cook this again 🙂